One of the most distinctive and important features of the American political economy is the power differential between business and labor. Not only is the former vastly larger and wealthier, it also commands respect and attention from the political system that the latter could never dream of. A small window into the differential can be seen in comments made by Mitt Romney the other day at the hearings for Julie Su, the Biden administration’s nominee for Labor secretary.
Romney complained that Su has met frequently with unions, but only recently with business. This means, he complained, she is not “an unbiased, neutral arbiter”:
The “unbiased, neutral arbiter” standard is an interesting one. It is not a demand that is normally made of other Cabinet secretaries. The Commerce secretary is understood as a representative of business. The Treasury secretary is supposed to have at least the respect of Wall Street. They are not generally pressed to demonstrate a record of cooperation with labor. So should all Cabinet secretaries be neutral between business and labor, or just the Labor secretary?
And if this expectation of neutrality applies to just the Labor secretary, should it apply to all of them, or just Democratic ones? Because Republican Labor secretaries generally adopt uncompromising pro-management positions.
Donald Trump’s last Labor secretary, Eugene Scalia, came from a corporate law firm, where he bitterly fought unions over workplace-safety protections. The AFL-CIO called him a “lifelong union-buster” who “has yet to find a worker protection he supports or a corporate loophole he opposes.” Romney votes for his nomination.
Trump’s first pick to run the department, fast-food executive and right-wing ideologue Andrew Puzder, was equally loathed by unions. (His nominations ultimately failed in the face of credible domestic-abuse allegations.) But even after other Republicans abandoned Puzder, Romney — at the time just a concerned private citizen — stuck his neck out to write a Facebook post endorsing the embattled nominee.
Romney’s concept of neutrality means, in practice, “What’s mine is mine, and what’s your is ours.” Labor is a special interest, and management is just “the economy.”